Public Defender, Giorgi Tugushi, released on March 31 annual human rights report covering 2010.
One portion of the 519-page report, which deals with situation in the penitentiary system, has captured most of the attention so far with lawmakers from the parliamentary minority saying that findings of the report are “more than enough” to demand sacking of minister in charge of prison system Khatuna Kalmakhelidze.
According to the report 142 inmates, 56% more than in 2009, died last year mainly because of inadequate healthcare system in the penitentiary. About 70% of inmates, who died in 2010, were in the age between 21 and 50.
Like in the previous reports, the new one again notes the problem of overcrowded prison cells.
“The number of prison population reached a critical point in recent years” and building of new prison facilities will not help to resolve this problem, instead a more comprehensive approach is required, the report says.
There were total of 23,684 inmates in Georgia as of January 1, 2011, including 201 juveniles, according to the report; there were 21,098 inmates a year earlier and only 6,654 in 2004.
The total capacity of all 19 prison facilities in the country now stands at 24,720.
According to the report, with the existing trend of increasing prison population it is likely that the entire system, and not only several prisons, will face the problem of overcrowded cells.
The ombudsman’s report calls on the authorities to liberalize criminal justice policy and to amend the criminal procedures code by replacing current practice of consecutive sentencing with concurrent one.
The report also notes that the authorities are mostly reluctant to investigate cases of mistreatment of inmates and detainees and investigations into such cases are usually either dropped or dragged out “for years”. It also says that in most of the cases the investigations are launched not under the qualification of torture, but as abuse of office by officials, which does not envisage severe punishment.
There are cases, according to the report, when medical examination of bodily injuries of inmates are carried out too late, when those injuries are no longer observed. According to the report there is “a syndrome of fear” among inmates to report about mistreatment as there have been cases when after such reports victims themselves became subject of a probe with the official investigation claiming that bodily injuries were sustained while an inmate was resisting to prison officials.
In a positive note the report says that the Public Defender’s representatives have not faced obstacles in accessing prison facilities and detention centers for monitoring.
On the judiciary system the report, like the previous one, says that lack of proper justification of verdicts by judges still remains a problem.
“Analysis of cases, studied by the Public Defender in the reporting period, reveals in the work of common courts ignorance of requirements set in the laws, which violates fundamental rights of the citizens,” the report reads.
Like the previous one, the recent report again notes that cases of mistreatment of detainees and excessive use of force by police still remains a problem and the trend is especially observed in the western Georgian.
Although there have been no large-scale protest rallies in the reporting period, the Public Defender says that there have been cases of violation of right of assembly; the report cites ‘Bush street protesters’ case and break up of a hunger strike at the Heroes’ Square on January 3, 2011.
On religious rights, the report says that number of cases of violence on the grounds of religion has declined over previous years. According to the report seven such cases have been reported last year with six of them against Jehovah’s Witnesses and one against Evangelical Baptist church.
In a positive note, the report says that unlike previous years, when such cases were investigated under the qualification of hooliganism, in most of the cases last year the police launched investigation under the qualification of religion-related crimes. The report, however, also says that lack of effective reaction from the law enforcement agencies to such cases is still a problem. “Sort of ‘tolerance’ towards such crimes is still observed,” the report says.
Davit Bakradze, the parliamentary chairman, said on April 4, that lawmakers would discuss the report at a session in early May; meanwhile, he said, the parliamentary committee for human rights would thoroughly study all the cases described in the report.